A major contributor to ocean plastic pollution, the Philippines is struggling to combat the perennial garbage problem owing to the failure of various sectors to comply with Republic Act 9003, or the Ecological Solid Waste Management Act of 2000.
The law promotes proper waste segregation to reduce, reuse and recycle for appropriate disposal in an engineered sanitary landfill.
Its poor enforcement by the National Solid Waste Management Commission (NSWMC), compelled Congress to enact Republic Act 11898, or the Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Act of 2022, which now passes the responsibility of recovering waste to a large-scale manufacturing company to curb ocean plastic pollution.
NSWMC is composed of various national government agencies, led by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), and with compliance by concerned local government units (LGUs),
Plastic waste producer
The Philippines generates 61,000 metric tons of solid waste daily, 12 percent to 24 percent of which is plastic waste.
Worse, Filipinos use more than 163 million plastic sachet packets, 48 million shopping bags and 45 million thin-film bags daily.
Thirty-three percent of these is disposed of in landfills and dumpsites, and around 35 percent is leaked into the open environment and oceans.
According to a 2021 World Bank Market Study for the “Philippine Plastic Circularity Opportunities and Barriers: East Asia and Pacific Region Maritime Plastics Series,” 0.8 million tons of plastics are disposed of yearly, with about 28 percent of key plastic resins being recycled.
Still, a majority of the material value of plastics is lost to the Philippine economy each year, equivalent to a value loss of $790 million to $890 million.
Threat to marine biodiversity
Ocean plastic pollution is now considered a serious threat to marine biodiversity.
Marine turtles and other large marine mammals inadvertently ingest plastic, which they often mistake for food, resulting in the animals’ untimely demise.
Plastic pollution also adversely affects corals, which are essential species-building ecosystems along with seagrass and mangroves.
Broken into microscopic pieces, plastics are also ingested by fish and other seafood, eventually posing a serious threat to the human health and well-being that eat them.
Private sector help
As the DENR aggressively promotes compliance with the EPR Act and moves to make waste recycling inclusive for the waste pickers, it is now getting the much-needed boost from the private sector, specifically in waste recovery to prevent them from reaching the ocean and worsen ocean plastic pollution.
Plastic Bank empowers the social recycling movement to stop ocean plastic pollution and help alleviate poverty.
The group has partnered with communities that act as collection agents to facilitate the exchange of plastic waste as currency for income and life-improving benefits, such as groceries, cooking fuel, school tuition, health insurance, digital connectivity and financial technology services.
The collected materials are processed into social plastic feed stock for reuse in products and packaging, helping create a new life for old plastics.
Plastic Bank currently operates in Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America.
In the Philippines, it has gathered 19.7 million kilograms of plastic waste, or 989 million equivalent plastic bottles.
It has a total of 7,950 collection agents from the Philippines.
Globally, Plastic Bank has over 600 collection branches, and more than a third, or 216, are in the Philippines—scattered all over Metro Manila, Cavite, Laguna, Pampanga, Zambales and Naga.
As a way of giving back to its partners from the communities in the country, David Katz, founder of Plastic Bank, went to pay Philippine collectors a visit from August 14 to 17.
Visited were individual collectors to whom Katz demonstrated selflessness, compassion and dedication to their families and their communities.
“Our collection members are making a profound impact on our planet and our communities with each day they spend on preventing plastic from entering the ocean,” he said.
During his visit, Katz surprised select individuals by offering financial assistance to fulfill their aspirations.
Creating space for plastics
Interviewed via Zoom on August 17, Katz said Plastic Bank recognizes that 80 percent of plastics entering the oceans are coming from areas of poverty.
In the Philippines, Plastic Bank’s role is to create a space for every piece of plastic, every piece of material, and its value is revealed in a manner that people don’t throw it away.
“We talked about cleaning the oceans.To keep the ocean clean, from needing to be cleaned to begin with,” he said.
A good law, a good start
According to Katz, the EPR law is a very good start.
“It is a very strong headway as we find in many countries,” he said.
While he said it is not a perfect law, he quickly said that the perfect is sometimes the enemy if you’re good enough.
He said implementing the law, nevertheless, will help create the space for additional enforcement.
Katz said turning garbage into gold is all part of improving solid waste management.
“It’s all part of it. The law, of course, is important. The ability to execute the law is critically important as well,” he said.
Like other players, he said Plastic Bank will play a significant part so that organizations can facilitate their commitments to be able to substantiate the return of the volume of materials that they are putting into the environment, to create the space for recycled content to be used locally as well.
The EPR law, he said, also plays a significant role for the chief executive officer of a large corporation, whose duty is to shareholders first, substantiating that they must do nothing to compromise the return to the shareholders.
“The EPR law now gives us space for the CEO to commit to doing what is right in the world as well. So the compromise of shareholder return is justified. It gives the legal space for public corporations to do what is right,” he said.
Dollar earning opportunity
Collecting plastic waste, according to Katz, is a dollar-earning opportunity as well.
He cited that Plastic Bank has a variety of processing partners that prepare the materials they collect for export.
“We are providing a space for those processors to export the materials and receive dollars as well,” he said.
Giving the poor self-worth
More importantly, Katz said Plastic Bank provides an opportunity for the waste pickers to have a purpose—and be part of something big.
Having peace of mind as they earn or make money, keep earnings in a bank book, and wear a uniform while at work makes them feel proud.
“They can walk with heads high because they know they are part of something,” he said, adding that having a feeling of self-worth is something Plastic Bank is also proud of.
Image credits: Plastic Bank